Five years ago, Old Town Pasadena was a forgotten corner of the San Gabriel Valley. Roughly bounded by Pasadena Avenue, Del Mar Boulevard, Arroyo Parkway and Walnut Street, the historic district hosted dusty antique shops, used clothing stores, fast-food stands and cheap flats.
But today Old Town presents a different face. It has been transformed into a trendy, lively, popular commercial district. Evening throngs crowd its cafes and sidewalks. Two new municipal parking structures, a multiplex theater, boutiques and coffeehouses attract visitors from throughout the Southland. Old Town has become the Westwood or Melrose of the San Gabriel Valley.
The following two-hour self-guided walking tour explores both the architectural history and the energetic watering holes and eateries of Old Town. You may want to walk two hours before sunset and end with dinner or a film.
To get to Old Town Pasadena from Interstate 210 (Foothill Freeway), exit south on Fair Oaks Avenue and go to Colorado Boulevard. From the Pasadena (11) Freeway, drive north to its end and continue north on Arroyo Parkway to Colorado Boulevard. Several new municipal parking structures--one at Green Street and Fair Oaks Avenue--offer space at 50 cents per hour.
Begin the walk at the heart of old Pasadena: Colorado Boulevard and Fair Oaks Avenue. From 1888 to the 1920s, this intersection was the crossroads of the city. Once many of these commercial buildings hosted Victorian facades with bay windows, turrets and rooftop finials.
In 1929, however, as Colorado Boulevard was widened 14 feet on each side, the Victorian fronts were literally chopped off to provide setbacks. New commercial fronts were built, reflecting the prominent, popular styles of the day: Zigzag Moderne, Spanish Colonial Revival and Beaux Arts.
Walk east on Colorado Boulevard. As you stroll, look up and appreciate the fanciful facades. At 24-28 E. Colorado Blvd. stands the Fish Building, an excellent example of Zigzag Moderne design. Built in 1887 and remodeled in 1929, the two-story building's facade is animated with swirling waves, florid shapes and star bursts.
Superb Beaux Arts buildings stand nearby. At 109-125 E. Colorado Blvd. rises a six-story steel-framed-and-brick building, designed in 1906 by John Parkinson and Edwin Bergstrom. Originally the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce Building, the recently renovated structure features an ornate overhanging cornice and geometric-patterned, colored brick.
As Pasadena grew in the 1920s, its prestigious commercial district moved eastward, as evidenced from the monumental Beaux Arts bank buildings at the corner of Marengo Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.
Turn left on Marengo Avenue. Several commercial buildings at 24-38 N. Marengo Ave. display the decorative versatility of terra cotta, with their engaged columns and multicolored friezes.
Evocative of Italian Gothic cathedrals, the First Baptist Church overshadows Marengo Avenue north of Union Street. Note its massive scale and use of tracery.
At Holly Street, turn left. To the east stands the imposing, majestic Pasadena City Hall with its Italian Baroque dome inspired by Venice's Santa Maria della Salute, creating a dramatic silhouette at sunset.
Nestled at the northwest corner of Marengo Avenue and Holly Street is an English Gothic brick structure. Built in 1922 as the Turner and Stevens Mortuary, the offices, chapel and gardens now host law firms and the Holly Street Bar and Grill, which offers dining in a romantic courtyard.
Continue west on Holly Street to Harper's Livery Bar and Grill at 110. Built in 1903 as a hay barn, the brick building was bought in 1906 by John B. Harper for his horses and wagons, which were used for Pasadena City Market deliveries. In 1980, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and now houses a restaurant.
At the corner of Raymond Avenue, look north. The Crown Theater at 129 N. Raymond Ave., built in 1920 as a legitimate theater, features Beaux Arts ornamentation. Farther north rises the landmark campanile of St. Andrews Catholic Church, its Medieval Romanesque design inspired by Santa Sabina Church in Rome.
One of Old Town's most popular restaurants, Cafe Jacoulet, overlooks the sidewalk at 92 N. Raymond. At once a cafe, charcuterie , patisserie and small market, the restaurant attracts a fashionable crowd.
Continue west on Holly Street, which is lined with antique stores, boutiques, eateries and gift shops. Turn left on Fair Oaks Avenue and walk half a block. Note the empty 1887 Victorian commercial building at the southwest corner of Union Street and Fair Oaks Avenue; it served as Pasadena's sixth city hall from 1893 to 1903.
After 72 N. Fair Oaks Ave., turn left into the parking lot and walk to the Loch Ness Monster Pub, a Scottish watering hole established in 1973.